Brilliant makes your smart home more manageable

Controlling your smart home gadgets from your phone or by voice isn’t exactly a chore, but after setting up a bunch of smart lights, a Wi-Fi lock, thermostat and a few more smart devices, I came to miss the ability to control at least some of them with a physical switch. Add to that the simple fact that your visitors suddenly don’t have a clue how to turn off the lights and you may just want to go back to basic light switches. Thankfully, that’s something the industry has realized, too, and we’re seeing a few more smart hardware controllers now, too.

At CES this year, Brilliant announced a new smart plug and switch to complement its existing touchscreen smart home controller. The new hardware is still a few weeks away, but ahead of the launch, I got a chance to try out the existing Brilliant controller, which has been on the market for a while but has received numerous updates and support for new integrations ever since. One of the latest integrations is with Schlage’s Encode Wi-Fi lock, which I also tested.

The promise of the Brilliant Controls is that you will be able to control all supported smart home gadgets from the physical and touchscreen controls — and, of course, it also turns the light switches you replace with it into smart switches. It also comes with a built-in camera (with a privacy shutter) that you can use either for room-to-room video chats or to check up on your home while you are away. The video quality isn’t great, but good enough for its intended purpose.

Supported devices include Wemo smart plugs, Ring alarms, Sonos speakers, Philips Hue and Lifx lights, as well Schlage, Yale and August locks, among others. The number of integrations keeps growing and covers most of the major brands, but if you’ve bet on other systems, this isn’t the controller for you. It also comes with built-in Alexa support and works with the Google Assistant, too.

Depending on how you feel about working with electricity in your home, the physical installation of the Brilliant Controls (I tested the $ 299 single and $ 349 dual switches) is either a breeze or will cause you nightmares. If you’ve ever changed a light switch, though, the installation couldn’t be easier, and Brilliant offers both an in-depth printed installation guide and video tutorials.

My own experience was pretty straightforward, assuming that your home’s electricity system is relatively modern and conforms to today’s standards. Installing the single switch took me about half an hour and the more complex dual switch was ready to go in about 45 minutes or so — and that was the first time I changed a light switch in a few years. If you’ve never done this before, though, that rats nest of cables behind your switches may take a little bit to figure out, but thankfully, all electric cables in modern homes should be color-coded.

One nice feature here is that you first install the backplate, which has physical buttons to let you test your installation before you put on the actual touchscreen unit. That way, you don’t have to unscrew everything in case you did make a mistake.

As for the software side, once you put on the screen, the Android -based interface should pop up within a few minutes. From there, you go through the usual Wi-Fi setup procedure and most likely a software update. After that, you should be ready to go.

Managing the lights that are directly attached to the control from the touchscreen or the capacitive strips on the side (for the two-switch control and up) is easy enough. Adding your third-party devices to the system takes a little while, but isn’t too onerous either, and you’re only going to do it once, after all.

I found the overall menu system a bit confusing, though, and takes a while to navigate. That especially becomes a problem when you want to program scenes (maybe to turn on all the different smart lights in your living room or bedroom). For this, you have to program both a scene that turns on all the lights, which take a few taps for every single one — and then a second scene that turns them all off. Because you can duplicate scenes, that second step is a bit faster, but I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a better solution for this. At the same time, though, this allows you to create pretty complex scenes. You can do most of this through the Brilliant app on your phone, too, which is probably the way to go as it’s a bit easier and faster.

Once everything is set up, though, the system is actually incredibly easy to use, and even your house guests who have never seen a smart plug will finally be able to turn your lights on and off (and yes, I’m aware that this shouldn’t be a problem in 2020, but here we are). I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but it pretty much just works.

One problem I’ve had with Brilliant is that the Controls are pricey, starting at $ 299 for the single switch and $ 349 for the dual switch. At those prices, you’re not going to put those into a lot of your rooms (unless you think that’s not that pricey, in which case, congrats). With the upcoming screen-less dimmer switches, which only require you to have a single control in your home and will retail for just under $ 70, that equation changes. We’ll give those new switches a try once they are available later this year.

 


Android – TechCrunch

Brilliant makes your smart home more manageable

Controlling your smart home gadgets from your phone or by voice isn’t exactly a chore, but after setting up a bunch of smart lights, a Wi-Fi lock, thermostat and a few more smart devices, I came to miss the ability to control at least some of them with a physical switch. Add to that the simple fact that your visitors suddenly don’t have a clue how to turn off the lights and you may just want to go back to basic light switches. Thankfully, that’s something the industry has realized, too, and we’re seeing a few more smart hardware controllers now, too.

At CES this year, Brilliant announced a new smart plug and switch to complement its existing touchscreen smart home controller. The new hardware is still a few weeks away, but ahead of the launch, I got a chance to try out the existing Brilliant controller, which has been on the market for a while but has received numerous updates and support for new integrations ever since. One of the latest integrations is with Schlage’s Encode Wi-Fi lock, which I also tested.

The promise of the Brilliant Controls is that you will be able to control all supported smart home gadgets from the physical and touchscreen controls — and, of course, it also turns the light switches you replace with it into smart switches. It also comes with a built-in camera (with a privacy shutter) that you can use either for room-to-room video chats or to check up on your home while you are away. The video quality isn’t great, but good enough for its intended purpose.

Supported devices include Wemo smart plugs, Ring alarms, Sonos speakers, Philips Hue and Lifx lights, as well Schlage, Yale and August locks, among others. The number of integrations keeps growing and covers most of the major brands, but if you’ve bet on other systems, this isn’t the controller for you. It also comes with built-in Alexa support and works with the Google Assistant, too.

Depending on how you feel about working with electricity in your home, the physical installation of the Brilliant Controls (I tested the $ 299 single and $ 349 dual switches) is either a breeze or will cause you nightmares. If you’ve ever changed a light switch, though, the installation couldn’t be easier, and Brilliant offers both an in-depth printed installation guide and video tutorials.

My own experience was pretty straightforward, assuming that your home’s electricity system is relatively modern and conforms to today’s standards. Installing the single switch took me about half an hour and the more complex dual switch was ready to go in about 45 minutes or so — and that was the first time I changed a light switch in a few years. If you’ve never done this before, though, that rats nest of cables behind your switches may take a little bit to figure out, but thankfully, all electric cables in modern homes should be color-coded.

One nice feature here is that you first install the backplate, which has physical buttons to let you test your installation before you put on the actual touchscreen unit. That way, you don’t have to unscrew everything in case you did make a mistake.

As for the software side, once you put on the screen, the Android -based interface should pop up within a few minutes. From there, you go through the usual Wi-Fi setup procedure and most likely a software update. After that, you should be ready to go.

Managing the lights that are directly attached to the control from the touchscreen or the capacitive strips on the side (for the two-switch control and up) is easy enough. Adding your third-party devices to the system takes a little while, but isn’t too onerous either, and you’re only going to do it once, after all.

I found the overall menu system a bit confusing, though, and takes a while to navigate. That especially becomes a problem when you want to program scenes (maybe to turn on all the different smart lights in your living room or bedroom). For this, you have to program both a scene that turns on all the lights, which take a few taps for every single one — and then a second scene that turns them all off. Because you can duplicate scenes, that second step is a bit faster, but I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a better solution for this. At the same time, though, this allows you to create pretty complex scenes. You can do most of this through the Brilliant app on your phone, too, which is probably the way to go as it’s a bit easier and faster.

Once everything is set up, though, the system is actually incredibly easy to use, and even your house guests who have never seen a smart plug will finally be able to turn your lights on and off (and yes, I’m aware that this shouldn’t be a problem in 2020, but here we are). I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but it pretty much just works.

One problem I’ve had with Brilliant is that the Controls are pricey, starting at $ 299 for the single switch and $ 349 for the dual switch. At those prices, you’re not going to put those into a lot of your rooms (unless you think that’s not that pricey, in which case, congrats). With the upcoming screen-less dimmer switches, which only require you to have a single control in your home and will retail for just under $ 70, that equation changes. We’ll give those new switches a try once they are available later this year.

 

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Amazon makes its music streaming service free with ads

Amazon is making its music streaming service free. The company previously offered free, ad-supported streaming only to customers who owned an Amazon Echo device. Now it’s rolling out free streaming to anyone using the Amazon Music app on iOS, Android, Fire TV and Amazon Music on the web in the U.S., U.K., and Germany.

The company has been steadily making its music streaming service more accessible by reducing prices. Earlier this year, for example, Amazon said it would no longer charge the $ 3.99 per month for streaming from Amazon Music Unlimited to Echo devices or require customers to pay for Amazon Prime in order to gain access to Prime Music’s smaller, 2+ million song catalog. Instead, it rolled out an ad-supported version of Amazon Music for free to Echo owners.

This is basically the same 2 million song catalog that comes with Prime Music, it just includes advertising and doesn’t require Prime membership.

Now, it’s making Amazon Music free for anyone — Echo owner or not — across a range of devices. This will allow users to play thousands of stations based on any song, artist, era, or genre, similar to Pandora . They’ll also gain access to top playlists, like “All Hits” featuring the world’s top songs, or the “Holiday Favorites” station, among others.

The move doesn’t really threaten paid subscription services like Spotify or Pandora’s premium tier or Apple Music, as Amazon’s free service has a much smaller catalog. It’s also not nearly as advanced in terms of its personalization technology, which powers things like Spotify’s Discover Weekly and other custom playlists. These are a big draw for music fans, and a reason they opt for one streaming service over another.

Instead, Amazon’s free music service serves more as a way to upsell consumers by encouraging them to join Amazon Prime in order to remove the ads from their music. (Prime Music’s 2 million songs are an added perk of a Prime subscription.) This is Amazon’s true motive: lock in more customers to Amazon Prime, ensure they realize the value of the free shipping and other benefits, then get them to renew every year. Once a Prime member, people will shop more often from Amazon, which is where the retailer’s profits lie.

The free music service also serves as an entry point into Amazon’s wider music ecosystem. If customers decide they want a larger, ad-free catalog, they can up to join Amazon Music Unlimited instead, which offers 50 million songs at $ 7.99 per month for Prime members, or $ 9.99 per month for others. And true audiophiles can upgrade to Amazon Music HD for $ 12.99 per month for Prime members, or $ 14.99 per month for non-members.

For the time being, Amazon is offering 4 months of Amazon Music Unlimited for $ 0.99.


Android – TechCrunch

Logitech accessory kit makes the Xbox Adaptive Controller even more accessible

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller was a breath of fresh air in a gaming world that has largely failed to consider the needs of people with disabilities. Now Logitech has joined the effort to empower this diverse population with an expanded set of XAC-compatible buttons and triggers.

Logitech’s $ 100 Adaptive Gaming Kit comes with a dozen buttons in a variety of sizes, two large analog levers to control the triggers, and a Velcro-style pad to which they can all be securely attached. It’s hopefully the start of a hardware ecosystem that will be at least a significant fraction of the diversity available to the able population.

The visibility of gamers with disabilities has grown both as the communities have organized and communicated their needs, and as gaming itself has moved towards the mainstream. Turns out there are millions of people who, for one reason or another, can’t use a controller or mouse and keyboard the way others can — and they want to play games too.

Always one of the more reliably considerate companies when it comes to accessibility issues, Microsoft began developing the XAC a couple years back — though admittedly after years of, like the rest of the gaming hardware community, failing to accommodate disabled gamers.

Logitech was an unwitting partner, having provided joysticks for the project without being told what they were for. But when the XAC was unveiled, Logitech was stunned and chagrined.

“This is something that, shame on us, we didn’t think about,” said Mark Starrett, Logitech G’s senior global product manager. “We’ve been trying to diversify gaming, like getting more girls to play, but we totally did not think about this. But you see the videos Microsoft put out, how excited the kids are — it’s so motivating to see that, it makes you want to continue that work.”

And to their credit, the team got in contact with Microsoft soon after and said they’d like to collaborate on some accessories for the system.

In some ways this wouldn’t be particularly difficult: The XAC uses 3.5mm headphone jacks as its main input, so it can accept signals from a wide range of devices, from its own buttons and sticks to things like blow tubes, so there’s no worries about proprietary connections, for instance. But when it comes to accessible devices and systems like this, there are often other rigorous standards in place that need to be upheld throughout, so it’s necessary to work closely with both the platform provider (Microsoft) and, naturally, the people who will actually be using them.

“This community, you can’t make anything for them without doing it with them,” said Starrett. “When we design a gaming keyboard or mouse, we engage pros, players, all that stuff, right? So with this, it’s absolutely critical to watch them with every piece.”

“The biggest takeaway is that everybody is so different: every challenge, every setup, everyone we talked to,” he continued. “We had a 70, 80 year old guy who plays Destiny and has arthritis — all we really needed to do was put a block on the back of his controller, because he couldn’t pull the trigger. Then we worked with a girl who has a quadstick, she was playing Madden like a pro with something you just puff and blow on. Another guy played everything with his feet. So we spent a lot of time on the site just watching.”

The final set of buttons they arrived at includes three very large ones, four smaller ones (though still big compared with ordinary controller buttons), four “light touch” buttons that can be easily activated by any contact, and two big triggers. Because they knew different gamers would use the sets differently, there’s a set of labels in the box that can be applied however they like.

Then there are two hook and loop (i.e. Velcro) mats to which the buttons can be attached, one rigid and the other flexible, so it can be draped over a leg, the arm of a couch, etc.

Even the packaging the buttons come in is accessible: A single strip of tape pulls out and causes the whole box to unfold, and then everything is in non-sealed reusable bags. The guide is wordless so it can be used in any country, by any player.

It’s nice to see such consideration at work, and no doubt the players who will benefit from these products will be happy to have a variety of options to choose from. I was starting to think I could use a couple of these buttons myself.

Starrett seemed very happy with the results, and also proud that the work had started something new at Logitech.

“The groups we talked to brought a lot of different things to mind for us,” he said. “We’re always updating things, but now we’re updating everything with an eye to accessibility. It’s helped Logitech as a company to learn about this stuff.”

You can pick up Logitech’s Adaptive Gaming kit here for $ 100.

Gadgets – TechCrunch